Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SPECIAL REPORT: Warning to Users of Shoe Business by Scott Alexander & Puck

Hi all,

Doing a midweek report like this is unusual to say the least, but I had to get this out there. I've gone on record saying that Shoe Business by Puck & Scott Alexander is probably my fav new effect for 2011 thus far. However, today I was notified of a potential problem.

First, a quick review - the effect is the magician calls a practical joke hotline and pours a drink into a borrowed shoe, as per the "hotline's" directions. Of course, the volunteer's shoe is unharmed. Along the way there are some great comedy lines.

I don't want to get into exposure, so I won't discuss the workings of the trick, but one of the comedy lines on the recording involves the "Press 1 for English" prompt that drives many of us CRAZY when we're calling a business and trying to get a human on the phone. Well, after a couple of lines, we hear a man's voice say "Rizzle, Shiffle My Nizzle," or something to that effect. Obviously this part of the recording is poking fun at those annoying voice prompts and maybe poking fun at the "izzle" slang that confuses people not of that generation...namely me.

Anyway, I loved the routine and put it in my night time family show. In the 6 times I've used it, it generates huge laughs and a gasp of amazement when the cup of liquid comes out of the shoe.

I performed it last night for a family show in Maryland, audience comprised of around 300 people, different backgrounds, mix of different ethnic groups, etc.

Well, today I received a phone call from the school principal saying that a mother of one of the kids called saying that "izzle my shizzle" part of the recording was offensive. Turns out it was in reference to Snoop Dog's slang and the "For Shizzle my Nizzle" can be (and is intended to be) translated by Snoop Dog to "For sure my N-----," with the "n" word for a racial slur. And to boot, the principal explaining all of this to me was a very kind, apologetic African American man.

I had no idea that this "izzle" stuff even translated. I knew vaguely of its orginis in rap (I think) and I've seen clips of Snoop Dog "izzling" this slang that I freely admit I don't "get." I figured it was nonsensical silly stuff. I don't care for Snoop Dog so therefore I never investigated it further.

I explained to this principal (who loved my shows) that I had no idea what all that "izzle" stuff meant and apologized profusely. He took it in stride and waved it off.

Needless to say, I will be running the Shoe Business through my audio editor and removing the "izzle" stuff. I LOVE the routine, but my viewpoint as a professional performer is this: if one person speaks up to complain about something, how many more were unhappy yet didn't say anything?

Now, do I believe Puck & Scott Alexander intended on putting out a product some audiences would find offensive? Hell no. Both are accomplished performers who regularly perform in front of international crowds on cruise ships - one of the toughest markets in the world.

The reality is that some people will be offended at things that other people will not find objectionable. I believed Puck & Alexander were simply, with this routine, poking fun at those annoying voice prompts as well as the confusing-to-an-older-generation "izzle" urban slang.

My knee-jerk reaction is to just lump the complaint of this woman in with the other silly complaints I've heard over the years regarding a number of performers. I had one lady complain, 6 years ago, that Rocky Raccoon was "scary" to special needs kids....there were 5 special needs kids wayyyy in the back of the auditorium. The audience was 500 strong. That irritated me. Another complained years ago about my coloring book - despite the fact that the kids LOVED the trick, She hated it simply because she had seen other magicians do it. The point is, people do complain and much of it is warranted.

The difference, in this case, is that the person offended was referencing some slang that translates from a very charged word, emotionally. Being a white male in the U.S., I obviously have no idea what power that word negatively has on people. I can only, for the sake of business, take cautious steps in this case.

It pains me to write this, but again, if one person in my audience complains, there may be others who don't. I just wanted to warn others of my experience. Take what you will from this. Maybe Puck can record the CD again without that passage? We'll see.

Know that I LOVE the routine, but simply wanted people to be aware of the negative possibilities.



  1. Cris,

    Actually, a lot of younger kids wouldn't necessarily get the reference either. This isn't new lingo it is closer to 'jive' from the 70s. Puck & Scott Alexander aren't that naive; they knew this wasn't gibberish talk. I assume they also felt that this wouldn't be offensive to most audiences (and it probably isn't). The line gets a laugh, but it is an awkward laugh. I would recommend either deleting this portion out of the sound clip or using a substitute for this section. You could direct the humor towards yourself and have a recording of a black man's voice saying something like "Hey honkie, whas happin? You know what it is!"